Students up 16%, school budget up 68%

It's a rainy day Tuesday at the new $10 million elementary school on Sandy Creek Road and its mostly empty parking lot. Photo/Ben Nelms.

Fayette schools have only 2,807 more kids in classes than 10 years ago, but per pupil expenditures increase 47 percent; system still shows small to no reserves.

It’s been a 10-year feast of funding for Fayette County public schools, according to figures from the school system analyzed by The Citizen.

The local schools have seen an increase of between 15 percent and 16 percent in numbers of students, but the overall system’s budget during that same period has skyrocketed 68.4 percent.

Much of that two-thirds budget increase over 10 years is because of significantly higher teacher pay and benefits, according to the school system’s financial head.

The system began fiscal year 2000 with a budget of $117.01 million to pay for educating 19,240 students.

Ten years later, for the 2008-2009 school year (fiscal year 2009), the system was budgeting $197.1 million to educate 22,047 students, an increase of $80.09 million for an additional 2,807 students.

Based on the figures given below, the Fayette County School System budgeted $6,082 for each student in FY2000, but increased that to $8,940 per student by FY2009, a jump of $2,858 of budgeted funds for each individual student, representing a total funding increase — a combination of state and local taxpayer funding — of 47 percent per student over the 10-year period.

School system Comptroller Laura Brock cited a number of factors that contributed to that increase. More than anything, said Brock, was the state-required pay increases for classroom instructors. Along with that, for the period from 2002-2009, was a state-based increase in teacher’s starting pay from $26,779 to $33,424, or 28 percent, she said. Adding to the mix was the increase in the number of instructional staff required to meet the state’s minimum class size requirements, Brock said.

Brock said there were also non-instructional factors that led to the budget increases. Among those were increases in health insurance costs and, several years ago, the school system’s return to Social Security, which made the system responsible for the 7.6 percent employer match.

Beyond those were other factors such as the increases in the cost of food, paper and plastics products and the increases in fuel prices.

Peak enrollment year for Fayette schools was the 2007 fiscal year, at which time the budget was $186.65 million. Enrollment declined the next two years, down to 22,047, yet the yearly budget increased to a peak of $197.1 million, an increase of $10.45 million at a time when there were 200 fewer students to educate, the equivalent of about a third of of an elementary school’s enrollment.

Faced with continuing declines in enrollment, state funding decreases and lowered local taxes available, the system adopted a budget for 2010 of $185.497 million, nearly the same as three years ago when the student enrollment was higher.

The system last year also essentially mothballed the new $10 million Rivers Elementary School on Sandy Creek Road. Built for more than 600 students who didn’t materialize, the brand new but mostly empty complex instead houses less than a fifth that number of special education students.

Here are the year-to-year budget increases, given as increases from the previous fiscal year’s budget total, with the corresponding increases in student population from the previous year:

2001: 592 more students, budget increase of $9.25 million.

2002: 505, $9.56 million more.

2003: 977, $6.5 million more.

2004: a decrease of 119 students, budget increase of $7.26 million.

2005: 336, $6.41 million more.

2006: 760, $8.25 million more.

2007: 76, $22.41 million more.

2008: a decrease of 259 students, budget increase of $6.25 million.

2009: a decrease of 61 students, budget increase of $4.2 million.

A look at the enrollment figures supplied by the school system shows an increase of just under 15 percent (2,807 students) during the same 1999-2009 period:

2009 - 22,047

2008 - 22,108

2007 - 22,367

2006 - 22,291

2005 - 21,531

2004 - 21,195

2003 - 21,314

2002 - 20,337

2001 - 19,832

2000 - 19,240

The board of education during the past two years has discussed the need to establish a specific reserve fund account to help weather economic storms like the current recession.

Unaudited figures available on the school system’s website show unreserved funds during the period of 1999-2008 ranging from a deficit of $1.36 million to a surplus of $9.2 million, with the average being $5.08 million. The school system shows no reserved dollars in the general fund.

The following list includes the Unreserved General Fund balances as of June 30 for the same periods. The school board maintained no specifically designated reserved funds during these following fiscal years ending each June 30 of the year named:

2009 — $4.509 million fund balance out of a general fund budget of $197.1 million.

2008 — $1.678 million fund balance, $192.9 million budget.

2007 — $6.555 million fund balance, $186.65 million budget.

2006 — $5.427 million fund balance, $164.24 million budget.

2005 — $4.799 million fund balance, $155.99 million budget.

2004 — $6.120 million fund balance, $149.58 million budget.

2003 — $6.338 million fund balance, $142.32 million budget.

2002 — $9.213 million fund balance, $135.82 million budget.

2001 — $-$1.360 million deficit, $126.26 million budget.

2000 — $7.048 million fund balance, $117.01 million budget.

The negative number in 2001 was a result of change in accounting requirements through the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB).

Board members Bob Todd and Marion Key have commented during some meetings on the need for the establishment of a formal reserve fund account with dollars that cannot be allocated elsewhere without board approval. They have cited the use of such reserve fund accounts in a number of other Georgia school systems where boards have been able to use those dollars to help weather the recession and avoid things like staff reductions, reductions in pay and the decrease of benefits.

As an example, the Coweta County School System began the 2008-2009 fiscal year with approximately $21 million in reserves and ended the year with approximately $18 million.

Located in the Finance Department section of the website (www.fcboe.org) are the financial reports for the past several years. Contained in those reports is a section entitled Fund Balances of Governmental Funds for the past 10 fiscal years. The General Fund section contains a line item for reserved funds and one for unreserved funds.

Aside from the manner in which various monies might be aggregated, the unaudited figures show no dollars in the reserved category for any of the years ranging from 1999-2008.

While the recession has played havoc with funding and tax revenues, the school system over the past 10 fiscal years has continued its escalating budget numbers while maintaining an average ending fund balance of $5.08 million and no designated reserve account.

As for the composition of the school board spanning the past decade, the breakdown is as follows:

Post 1

Debbie Condon 1993-2000

Janet Smola 2001-2012

Post 2

Woody Shelnutt 1993-2000

Terri Smith 2001-2012

Post 3

Marion Key 1993-1996 and 2001-2012

Connie Hale 1997-2000

Post 4

Bob Todd 1995-1998 and 2007-2010

Greg Powers 1999-2006

Post 5

Mickey Littlefield 1999-2002

Lee Wright 2003-2010.

In recent years, the board has experienced many split 3-to-2 votes on financial issues, with Smith, Smola and Wright outvoting Key and Todd on multiple occasions.

The following are General Fund budget totals for the fiscal years ending June 30 from 1999-2009:

2009 - $197.1 million

2008 - $192.9 million

2007 - $186.65 million

2006 - $164.24 million

2005 - $155.99 million

2004 - $149.58 million

2003 - $142.32 million

2002 - $135.82 million

2001 - $126.26 million

2000 - $117.01 million

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